Thanksgiving 2020

November 28, 2020 at 8:57 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Pretty much always has been, because, well… FOOD. I love the food. I love the deep fried turkey, I love the dressing (which I call stuffing even though it’s never stuffed in anything because you don’t stuff that which you deep fry), my cranberry sauce (which is apparently somewhat unique and more of a salsa or relish, a blend of: wholeberry cranberry, cranberry sauce, orange marmalade, apple cider vinegar, chopped onion, chopped cilantro, chopped jalapeño, and a sprinkle of orange peel). For dessert, I prefer my marble pumpkin cheesecake over pumpkin pie, some years I’ve made Pumpkin Rolls — another bite of perfection. And I’ve always loved that above all, Thanksgiving is about being thankful to God for what we already have and the burden of gifts are not involved.

This year, our history studies coincided perfectly with the holiday: We studied William Bradford, the Mayflower, and the Pilgrims.

William Bradford: Pilgrim Boy by Bradford Smith is a gentle middle grade chapter book that tells the story of the Puritan governor William Bradford. From his childhood with his grandfather, through his schooling, to Holland, and across the sea to lead a new colony to religious freedom. Understanding his story helps flesh out understanding for King James, the King James Bible, British politics, and early America. Without knowing William Bradford, do you really know what the Pilgrims were thankful for?

During the weeks I read this aloud, Kiddo was reading a book called Pilgrim Stories by Margaret Pumphrey, published by Beautiful Feet. We caught one error in the book, at the beginning the writers seem to be confused about Mary Tudor and Mary Stuart. We revisited our Rhyming History of Britain and memorized a few stanzas to ensure Kiddo didn’t remember the wrong information. It helped to clarify how James VI of Scotland became James I of England. Memorizing rhymes is one of our favorite activities (so much so that we spent November 5th celebrating Guy Fawkes Day memorizing the infamous poem… Remember, remember the fifth of November, the Gunpowder Treason and Plot…).

I read The Landing of the Pilgrims as a child, I really love the old Landmark Books and make a point of collecting them, and this was another one I made Kiddo read on her own this time. I find at this age when I can assign independent reading, instead of me reading out loud less, we just cover twice as many books per topic.

My husband read The Adventures of Myles Standish out loud and we both marveled over the beauty of the timeline across the bottom of Harness’s lovely biography (so much so, we started stocking up on other biographies in the same series for the future).

P.J. Lynch’s The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower might be one of my all time favorite Thanksgiving books. The illustrations are simply beyond gorgeous and take my breath away. Lewis Buzbee talks about children’s picture books in The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop and how they’re meant to be read over and over again, by children and adults alike… this is one of those books, a perfect work of art I am pleased to own and revisit. I paid full price for it (something I rarely do, as the majority of my books are bought used), and have no regrets.

Thanksgiving Day, Kiddo insisted on dressing like a Wampanoag child. She was very disappointed that not a single article of clothing her dress up basket included authentic Wampanoag attire. Instead she’s wrapped in a touristy Navajo blanket sent to us for our donations to some reservation school or another. (My mother spent much of her childhood near the Navajo and they are the one tribe we feel a familial attachment to despite a lack of native blood. I grew up singing bible school songs in Navajo, as she was taught.) I know some in the world would consider this cultural appropriation at the worst or at best possibly roll their eyes at us, but we study these things and she dresses up out of the highest level of respect, empathy, and intrigue. This is childhood, children learn through stories and play.

By afternoon, she’d shed half her costume and settled into the life of Squanto while I read the Mayflower Papers over dessert.

Education is a lifetime pursuit and I’m thankful for the opportunity to share my love of learning through the discipleship of homeschooling.

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Jamestown

November 28, 2020 at 7:39 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

We spent the month of October studying Jamestown, Pocahontas, and John Smith. We also read a few things on Galileo, since he was making discoveries and writing books around the same time and we enjoy getting a whole big picture of the world perspective when we study any place or time period.

So, for a big, big, big picture perspective, I read Her Majesty’s Spymaster by Stephen Budiansky first, to take me from all the mysteries surrounding Roanoke through British and Spanish politics, espionage, and intrigue, and into the reign of King James.

From there, I tackled Love and Hate in Jamestown by David A. Price. I loved this book. I think Price thinks very highly of John Smith and it shows, but I also think the author tackled the subject like a true historian: with a lot of source documents and an appreciation for the fact that all human beings typically have virtues as well as character flaws. Too many tend to portray people as all good or all bad, depending on their political leanings, personal preferences, and limited knowledge/ understanding of humanity.

I couldn’t put Price’s book down and I’m honestly astounded there are less than five star reviews on Goodreads because I just adored this account so much. It is well-balanced, thoroughly researched, and presented in a riveting manner. I think Price treated each historical figure with respect and honesty.

After this, naturally, we binge read everything we could get our hands on about Pocahontas. From D’Aulaire’s beautiful (though, apparently now controversial?) picture book, to Linwood Custalow’s “True Story” of Pocahontas, which to me reads like a propaganda piece about how all natives are saints and all white men were terrible… Obviously, these sorts of narratives (especially when poorly written) don’t sit well with me. I would love to read a Native American who is also a historian tackling this subject. I was disappointed in Custalow’s ranting, but am sure (because history is always documented by the “winners”) that some part of the truth lies in the middle and I’m dying to know which parts are the truths.

That desire for truth and clarity led me to Helen C. Rountree‘s The Powhatan Indians of Virginia, which is brilliant! I highly recommend her work for anyone looking for an authoritative voice on the natives of Virginia. Her research is so thorough and respectful she was made an honorary member of the Nansemond and Upper Mattaponi tribes. I appreciate that she is well-educated, articulate, and has the stamp of approval to share cultural context that allows us to understand what was going on between the lines of the source documents we’re accustomed to reading, like John Smith’s own book.

And like a flash, we moved onto William Bradford in time for Thanksgiving…

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Fly, Fly Again

January 7, 2020 at 4:56 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Title: Fly, Fly Again

Authors: Katie Jaffe & Jennifer Lawson

Illustrator: Tammie Lyon

Genre: Children’s Storybook/ Picture Book

First and foremost, kiddo and I were blown away that Buzz Aldrin–THE BUZZ ALDRIN–wrote the foreword for this picture book. How cool is that? (My father, an engineer alum of the same university as Aldrin, was pretty impressed as well. Frequently, he reads my kiddo picture books and comments about how children’s publishing has “come a long way.”)

Reminiscent of The Questioneers series (of which we have every title!) by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts, Jaffe and Lawson’s new book encourages critical thinking skills, creative wonder, and diligence to pursue dreams.

Kiddo loved the story, she’s nine, and still enjoys the magic of a children’s storybook even though she’s also reading chapter books now. She’s heard me quote “Try, Try Again” her whole life and learned to read on McGuffey’s which includes the poem in its reading exercises, so there was a genuine snicker when Hawk raised his feather and included the play on words, “If at first you don’t succeed, fly, fly again!”

“It is a great book, no one can doubt that. The airplane design [in the illustrations] is amazing. But you still can’t put that many people and pets into a wagon WITH a motor,” Kiddo told me. She is now monologuing design flaws, propellor safety, and superior ways to attempt this project. I think the book has done exactly its job: spiked STEM thinking.

Fly, Fly Again is a new favorite we plan to read often.

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Back to School…

August 14, 2019 at 4:25 am (Education) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Well, actually, we never left.

History in the hammock.

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Gilgamesh

July 26, 2019 at 4:47 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

If you’re studying ancient history in chronological order, sometime after you’ve read the Book of Genesis, it’s really fun to dive into Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh is an epic poem most kids have to read in high school or early college for literature classes, originally written in Akkadian. It’s a mythological adventure about a real Sumerian king documented in history, who, like many kings of old, became a legend passed down through the ages, the truth of his life distorted and lost to deification.

Ludmilla Zeman has a fantastic children’s picture book trilogy that I find to be the best starting point for learning about Gilgamesh. It is consistent with most translations and full of beautiful illustrations. When kiddo was small and we were studying ancient history the first time around, we checked these out from the library over and over again. She loved them. This time I bought them, brand new. They’re worth every penny.

I picked up used copies of the epic for myself. I was disappointed to discover that every translation available was a translation of a translation. I know its ignorant to expect to read direct translations of the Old Babylonian tablets when you pick up a Penguin trade paperback, but I did. I went back to the store after reading through David Ferry’s pretty version and N.K. Sandar’s better translation, looking for something closer to Andrew George’s 2003 version – or better yet, George Smith’s 1870’s version! To no avail. Everyone wants new and better more modern ways to tell the tale, while I bemoan my inability to read archaic clay tablets I’d never get my hands on anyway.

I was hoping to find a cool cartoon on the tale for us to watch together, desiring a repeat of the experience we had when we studied Beowulf in 2016 (YouTube had an amazing cartoon rendition of Beowulf featuring the voice of Joseph Fiennes at the time…). All I found were some not so kid friendly “cliff notes” style videos of people walking students through what it was all about so they wouldn’t have to read the book themselves.

Attention all animators: Please provide a kid appropriate Gilgamesh cartoon, featuring an oddly famous actor of the 90’s of my choice. Thanks.

Gilgamesh is neat. I love the beautiful picture books we own. I will be the parent that makes sure she reads poem and doesn’t watch internet video summaries when she’s older. But I’m not in love with it the way I am with The Iliad and Beowulf. I think it may be the insincerity of it all. It feels obvious that it was a legend born of puffing up the ego of a king and his people. It takes Noah’s ark and twists it, I love reading confirmation that many regions of the world had a major flood, I’m saddened when the details are distorted and inconsistent, making heroes of those who weren’t and forgetting the one man who did obey.

Maybe I’ll love it when I finally get my hands on one of the George translations…

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American History With a 2nd Grader

June 14, 2019 at 6:37 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

It has actually impressed me how much wonderful American History literature is available for children. Jean Fritz, who has a fantastic book for everything, is my first go to. We read the biography of Pocahontas nearly two years ago, and then moved on through time to other great biographies like Will You Sign Here, John Hancock? I desire to own everything Jean Fritz has ever written eventually. But I already knew I loved Jean Fritz when I started homeschooling. Jean Fritz is known. Some authors or books I didn’t previously know, however, and they have brought us much joy.

Ann Malaspina has an excellent picture book on Phillis Wheatley and George Washington. (We actually read a lot about Phillis Wheatley this year, and were enamored with every mention of her in other books and shows.) We also enjoyed Ann McGovern’s The Secret Soldier: The Story of Deborah Sampson. Avi’s Captain Grey intrigued us completely and opened up a lot of doors for discussions regarding moral dilemmas, trust, and relationships between adults and children.

We absolutely loved Becky Landers: Frontier Warrior by Skinner. It took us a long time to read it out loud, but it was worth every page. I think it’s important for kids to really experience a time period through literature, not just memorize the facts and move on. The stories are what helps my kiddo remember the facts she memorizes, and there are so many good stories!

During this time, which took up the entire summer going into her second grade school year, we also read Justin Morgan Had a Horse by Marguerite Henry. Several years ago I was sent a recommendation for a unit study on horses put out by Beautiful Feet. I have all the books in their package, but instead of tackling it like a unit study, it has been an underlying theme in all her studies. She’s in her fourth year of horseback riding, so the undercurrent of equestrian education is something I hope she looks back on with fondness.

If you are into lists, these are the books we read next and loved:

Davy Crockett – George Sullivan

What Was the Alamo? – Meg Belviso

Poli: A Mexican Boy in Early Texas – Jay Neugeboren

The Ballad of Lucy Whipple – Karen Cushman

The Moon of the Gray Wolves – Jean Craighead George

The Moon of the Fox Pups – Jean Craighead George

Sing Down the Moon – Scott O’dell

Harriet Tubman – Sawyer, DK Biographies

A Ballad of the Civil War – Mary Stolz

In a few years, we’ll have the pleasure of repeating this point in history, and there are so many more books I can’t wait to read with my kid, especially for the Civil War era. This year we focused more on biographies, we also read non-American ones like Florence Nightingale. Perhaps, next time we’ll read deeper into the wars. For second grade I tried to focus on the importance of moral goodness and fighting for what’s right while I hedged around the gory details.

We thoroughly enjoyed watching the cartoon Liberty’s Kids, and I’ve got quite the little patriot on my hands. I’d appreciate any recommendations in the comments for books that encourage honor and respect for ones nation while also discerning its flaws. Because we study using a classical model, all of history gets repeated in cycles, chronologically, so there is plenty of time to line up our reading lists for the future.

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Wicked Histories

June 8, 2019 at 2:40 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

While reviewing all the books of years past, it’s impossible to avoid children’s history books, audiobooks, picture books, and a great many of odd resources. As mentioned many times before, I homeschool, so most my reading material reflects that.

We stumbled across the Wicked Histories series a few years ago, and I find the series extremely helpful when trying to find biographies on people who helped shaped the world but aren’t typically doted upon in children’s literature. From this series, last July while studying the 1700’s-1800’s we read Catherine the Great: Empress of Russia by Zu Vincent.

One thing I love about the Wicked Histories is that it has been an excellent tool for walking my kid through discernment practices. How do you identify bad people? What makes someone a safe person? People can be evil and still do good things. People can be good and still do bad things. It’s what they do longest, it’s the legacy they leave behind, that tends to define them. Most people, as researchers and biographers know, have a running theme for their life. The “theme,” so to speak, is often the best judge of their heart. They can say a few nice things, but if their legacy was that of slaughtering people in the street, could you truly call them good? Maybe they were known to love their family, but if all their political policies doomed their nation, what then? I like that Wicked Histories isn’t afraid to have these discussions with children. I also like that they never give a straight answer, the authors leave the conclusion up to the children.

Because these books are so full of moral nuance, I don’t have her read these alone, even though she could. I read all the Wicked Histories aloud as part of our school day and we discuss. Some of our most riveting discussions came while reading Cixi: Evil Empress of China? by Sean Stewart Price and Grigory Rasputin: Holy Man or Mad Monk? by Enid A. Goldberg. It’s helping her see that she has the power to pursue what is good and just in the world, or choose personal glory, fame, and power which tends to corrupt. These stories are helping her see that what you make your priorities matters, who you put your trust in matters. Alexandra Romanov, as well as many other Russian women of the time, were deceived by Grigory Rasputin. How do you watch for deceit while maintaining your positive attitude toward other human beings. I think these are important and healthy lessons to learn. We learn these lessons best by reading God’s word, yes, but also by and knowing our history.

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Education is a Lifetime Pursuit

May 31, 2019 at 3:36 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

“Education is a lifetime pursuit.” I tell my daughter this constantly. It is our household motto, so much so, I would not doubt if I had already posted something with the same title before. I even hope that my readers already have read this phrase.

I am a homeschool mother. I am, in the deepest parts of my soul, a teacher. I always have been, and have been overzealous about it since I discovered the classical model. What I have loved about the classical model most is the ease in which I can continue my own education while I educate my daughter. She memorizes facts and dates in the grammar stage and not only do we supplement with rich literature to help her remember, but I get to pluck out related reading material for myself. Individually, I learn and teach the classical model… as a household, we are constantly involved in “unit studies” that are structured chronologically throughout history.

While she was memorizing history sentences about Christopher Columbus, the Pilgrims, and eventually the colonists dumping tea into the Boston Harbor, I was reading Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England by William Cronon.

First published in 1983, Changes in the Land is the earliest book I know of written directly about environmental history, not part of a political movement. Everything I’ve read published prior to this book are either beautiful transcendentalist nature essays (Emerson, Thoreau, Bronson Alcott, etc.), geological science books (Lyell, Stenson, etc.), or solely activist tree-hugger type stuff. In fact, I think it paved the way for books like the one I read recently (and thoroughly enjoyed) while she learned about the gold rush called Hard Road West: History and Geology along the Gold Rush Trail, whose author also crossed genres by highlighting the land, and all the things that make it what it is and the men who mar it, as the main character in the book’s story.

The biggest thing the two books have in common, for me, is at the end of each I thought, “This must be required reading for high school students.” After all, how do you learn history of a place without comprehending the blood, sweat, and tears, that was shed on it and ALL the reasons why, not the just the wars, but trails cut, deforestation, farms, dustbowls, mining… and not just focus on what it did to the people, but what it did to the land and how all that affects us today. Books like these are a beautiful marriage of history, social science, science, and more.

I love finding these gems as I sort through piles and piles of potential reading material, planning out lengthy lists of things to shape my kiddo’s mind. I love that my mind is also being shaped. I love that I am 35 and never done studying. I love that, in addition to growing my relationship with Jesus Christ and my daughter, education is my lifetime pursuit.

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Beowulf

September 13, 2016 at 1:33 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I have a confession: I never read Beowulf in high school.  Or college.  I read Canterbury Tales more times than I can count (yet only remember a handful of the stories).  I read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight ad nauseum – and I like that story.  But no Beowulf.  How did I miss it?

I’ll tell you how, we tried to cram so much into such a short amount of time.  We spent hours and hours in school, but spent very little time actually studying.  Somewhere along the way, Beowulf was lost to me.  I’m not sure if I was ever really exposed to it or not.  It might have been something I breezed through in a Norton Anthology and regurgitated the next day for a pop quiz, only to be quickly forgotten.  I couldn’t tell you.  I only know that I had a vague idea that it was an epic poem involving something named Grendel when I began working at a bookstore as an adult.  Even then, I couldn’t tell you if Grendel was the monster or the man.

unknownAs we began our Middle Ages/ Early Ren. (450 AD to 1600 AD) year while classically homeschooling, it dawned on me that this was the year for Beowulf. I had already read the picture book by Eric A. Kimmel to kiddo when she was a wee one, but I’m sure she was so tiny she had fallen asleep; now was the time to embrace the story.

And we did.  I read her the picture book shortly before my trip to Atlanta. It fit right in with all the Celtic and Norse mythology we’ve been reading to bridge the gap between the ancient times and our exciting year ahead.  “What a guy! He tore off the monster’s arm! I can’t even do that,” she exclaimed. She was very pleased that this particular picture book could give the story in “one-sitting, all today” as opposed to the stories of Odysseus and Troy which all took weeks of chapter by chapter to finish. I foresee reading this again and again over the coming months, she loved the story so much; I have to admit, I did too.

4cf814193a0I liked it even more when I discovered there was a cartoon made in 1998 starring Joseph Fiennes as the voice of Beowulf – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKjcoFZmKuA.  We got to watch that and call it school.  It was a lot of fun.  (There’s one for Don Quixote we’ll be watching next year when we make it into the 1700s.)

Naturally, I was curious as to the accuracy of these versions.  I won’t ever truly know, because everything is a translation, but I thought I’d give an adult version a go.  There’s so many versions out there, I think I’ll just try a different one every Middle Ages cycle.  So I took the Constance B. Hieatt version with me to Atlanta and enjoyed it immensely, especially the little extras at the end.

beowulf-cover-hiea-900

The kiddo, of course, keeps asking me why we are using “fake stories as lesson books, they aren’t real stories mother!” I keep telling her, very ineloquently, that these stories help us understand the people who told them.  Read them to her as bedtime stories and naturally she’s thrilled at the excitement of them.

We’ll collect more versions over the years and by the time she is grown she will know the story well – and remember it.  Next go around we’ll even tackle it in poem form, and eventually we’ll read Gardner’s Grendel.

Do you have any favorite versions of Beowulf?  Or, more importantly, do you know any great stories of the time period that should not be missed?

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To Be Indiana Jones…

September 11, 2016 at 4:46 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

2359468Title: Babylonian Life and History

Author: E. A. Wallis Budge

Genre: History/ Archeology

So, I want to be Indiana Jones when I grow up. Who doesn’t? Although a friend advised me that to be Andi “Tex” Klemm would be far cooler, and I have suggested that I just might have to embroider this onto a fedora.

In the meantime, I study as much history as I can.  I also subscribe to the Archeology magazine.  And the way I go all fan-girl at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, well, it’s part of what makes me awesome… right?

So my “grown-up reading time” during my 5 year old’s ancient history year was Babylonian Life and History by E. Wallis Budge.  It was neat teaching her the bare bones of the Babylonians and Assyrians out of Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World, and memorizing tidbits from the Classical Conversations curriculum, while getting a deeper dose for myself. I’ll continue this effort of furthering my education while I begin hers as long as I can. If you don’t have time for that, I understand completely; but if you do, this is a worthy book to select.

E.A. Wallis Budge never ceases to amaze me. Every time I think I have everything he ever wrote I think I find 3 new titles. He’s so prolific and seems to be the end all be all on Ancient History. Found some tidbit of from the ancient world you’d like to investigate? – there’s probably a Budge book for that. His prose is nothing special, and at times even a little boring, but I love reading his work and hope to read it all before I die.

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